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Canada Goose CEO Dani Reiss (Rachel Idzerda for The Globe and Mail)
Canada Goose CEO Dani Reiss (Rachel Idzerda for The Globe and Mail)

THE LUNCH

Casual-chic workaholic strives for authenticity at helm of Canada Goose Add to ...

Dani Reiss stood in six inches of water in his stylish offices of Canada Goose Inc., the victim of flooding from a burst pipe at his luxury parka maker’s new headquarters.

While he had insurance to cover the damage, the chief executive officer had no backup plan for relocating his head office staff of about 300 during the prolonged cleanup. With an overflowing agenda, he had an urgent need to get his employees back to work at his fast-growing fashion company.

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Just a few months earlier, Canada Goose had got an infusion of money from U.S. private equity giant Bain Capital for the parka producer’s rapid expansion beyond its Canadian roots to the United States and beyond. In December, Bain had bought a majority stake in Canada Goose for an estimated $250-million. Mr. Reiss had no time to waste: Within a week of the flood he moved his team to temporary space in midtown Toronto from their abode in the city’s west end.

At our lunch in June at his favourite Japanese restaurant, an older eatery almost empty on this sunny Friday, he is nearing the end of his 15-week stay at the temporary offices. He’s reflecting on the “fun challenge” of the displacement: one more task for a man who savours problem-solving and swimming against the tide.

“I think every day is crisis management,” he says, a fashionable stubble of beard sprouting on his face. “When you’re growing sales at 40 to 50 per cent, that’s all you’re doing. You have to like it. You have to have a taste for it … I warn everybody when they come here: this is an unreasonable place to work. Some people don’t like it – they like stability. I warn every single person I interview: ‘This place is crazy.’ ”

A contrarian by nature, Mr. Reiss, 40, is the entrepreneur who never planned to go into his family’s coat business but, once he did, moved to transform the challenged domestic producer by changing its name and capitalizing on Canada as a cool destination for cold-weather chic. He makes almost all his merchandise in this country, even as other apparel producers have it made at low-cost factories overseas.

This year, he expects privately held Canada Goose to generate more than $200-million in sales – and $1-billion within the next several years – from just $3-million in 2001 when he became CEO. He’s betting he can keep his creative edge and still bolster the increasingly ubiquitous brand’s business with new lines (such as all-season outerwear) and even flagship stores without having to wrestle with consumer fatigue of the coveted logo-clad coats.

In some ways his story is similar to that of Chip Wilson, 59, the visionary founder of yoga-wear retailer Lululemon Athletica Inc. and someone whom Mr. Reiss admires. The two men both were the creative forces behind their respective fast-growing premium “functional” wear lines, turning them into high-profile brands. Each partnered with U.S. private equity players to help them gain worldwide exposure, with Lululemon going public in 2007. Both had the enviable problem of having to scramble to keep up with burgeoning demand.

But Lululemon is now struggling with sluggish growth after a series of missteps, including a high-profile recall of too-sheer pants amid rising competition. Mr. Reiss, who also faces more copycats, needs to ensure he avoids those kinds of setbacks and keeps intact his brand’s high-end allure.

David Russell, co-owner of upscale fashion retailer Sporting Life, was one of the first merchants to stock Canada Goose. “Every year, we’re waiting for it to fall off,” says Mr. Russell. “There’s nobody on our staff who thinks it’s going to fall off ... Dani has got a single-minded focus. They make a great product.”

Larry Rosen, CEO of luxury men’s clothier Harry Rosen, said the pricey parkas’ sales pick up every year. The two men go to Raptors games together and this winter watched the gold-medal Canada-Sweden Sochi Olympics hockey game on television at 4 a.m. after they met up in Las Vegas. “He’s humble and approachable,” Mr. Rosen says. “We can yell and kibitz with each other.”

Mr. Reiss showed his independent streak early on. Even as he thrives on selling the goose down-filled parkas with fur-lined hoods for up to $1,700, as a teenager he shunned the “pretentiousness” of luxury brands. He even cut off the signature alligator logo from his Lacoste shirts.

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